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Nine-year-old Sophia has a new best friend, and she may turn out to be a real life saver. Five-month-old Honey is a yellow Lab puppy, and she’s being trained as a diabetic alert dog.
Sophia has been managing her type 1 diabetes since she was five – the condition requires constant vigilance. She wears an insulin pump and glucose monitor at all times, but there’s always the danger of cardiac arrest if her glucose drops too low – especially when she’s sleeping and can’t monitor her blood-sugar levels.
Dogs can predict blood-sugar-level changes 15 minutes before they’re caught by electronic monitors. Honey is being trained with samples of Sophia’s saliva taken when she’s at different blood levels. When Honey recognizes the target level on a cotton pad, she gets praise and a treat! She’s even being trained to monitor Sophia’s night-time levels. Trainer Carleigh explains, “That’s the hardest thing for a dog to do – wake themselves up out of their own sleep so they can help their person.”
“I can totally see that they’re going to love each other!” adds Carleigh of Sophia and Honey. Honey will do double-duty in the family vineyard, sniffing out destructive mealybugs.
“Honey is the best tool for us to make the best-educated decisions,” explains Stephanie, Sophia’s mom. “And for us to feel that Sophia is safe at night, so we don’t worry as much.”
“The number-one question I always get asked is, ‘How do you give these dogs up? How do you give them to someone else after you’ve spent two years of your life with them?’ And it’s because they have a greater purpose. She gets to go live with Sophia,” says Carleigh.
Sophia and Honey get to visit and bond about once a week. During her training, Honey is learning 80 different commands, so she can accompany Sophia anywhere – she’ll be able to go on public transit or anywhere else Sophia goes.
“It’s such a progressive use of an amazing animal,” says ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork. “But how cool to have a loyal companion that’s also in many ways the best medical device you can ever ask for.”